Shouting: Vote with your feet

Published on May 19th, 2015

by Elaine Bunting, Yachting World
A few years ago I had a memorable regatta on the crew of a yacht whose owner and skipper was an extremely plummy and well-connected member of the legal profession – a business that of necessity is very particular about words. He was the epitome of charm and had the most impeccable manners.

Until the ten-minute gun.

As the gun fired, his demeanour and language underwent an instantaneous transformation. Now that matters were tinged with urgency, directives were peppered with profanities and hurled at the crew at top volume. Amidst the barrage of disparagements were sporadic volleys of more specific character assassination. The ears of the pitiful crew rang with insults for over two hours, until we crossed back across the finish line.

Sails were handed and stowed, the kettle was put on and hostilities ceased. The skipper was immediately restored to calm and resumed pleasantries as if nothing had happened.

Another year I raced with a crew of ladies (no other term suffices) who were transformed into fishwives at the sound of the ten-minute gun and chain-smoked their way round a Cowes Week course yelling and commentating fruitily about their competitors.

I remember the skipper who verbally abused his kids every time he got stressed. And the businessman who invited clients and novice sailors for corporate racing only to berate them for their lack of skill on the race course.

Of course, racing isn’t always like that. But quite a lot of it is. Enough to put off new sailors, and perhaps your family.

When people talk about the biggest obstacles to the growth of sailing, I’d suggest one word for starters: shouting. This one of the nastier habits of many sailors, a guilty secret that is rarely spoken about.

I’m not saying I have never done it myself. I have, to my shame, and at one stage in my early racing days I genuinely thought it was the norm. But I hope I’ve been trained out of it, partly by cruising with experienced friends and by observing many professional crews who likewise pride themselves in communicating firmly but quietly.

So what should you do when you’re being shouted at? If you ask me, get off at the end of the race and don’t come back. As the old saw goes: what you put up with, you get more of.

Vote with your feet. It’s hard to find crew these days. It’s a volunteer’s market…read on

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